How does your garden grow?
April 7, 2019 7:51 AM   Subscribe

I want to start an edible garden in my backyard. In a fit of excitement yesterday, I went to Home Depot's garden center and bought a bunch of stuff (details inside) and after bringing it home, realized I'm a bit overwhelmed. How do I start?

According to the USDA hardiness map, I'm in zone 7b. Soil is somewhat clay-ish under the small layer of topsoil. The backyard faces east and gets plenty of morning sun, but all but a small corner section is shaded by the house in the afternoon/evening. I'm guessing I'll have to put the veggie garden in that sunny corner? Right now everything is still in their pots and on my sunny front porch until I figure out where it should go.

Things I bought yesterday:
- a dwarf Meyer lemon tree.
- a hybrid tomato plant ("Better Bush")
- a "BabyCakes" dwarf blackberry bush
- a gardening tool set consisting of a trowel, cultivator, transplanter. I also own a regular spade.

Considered but did not buy a raised garden bed -- unless those are particularly helpful? Container gardening? Also -- thinking about the types of veggies I tend to eat -- considering onions and bell peppers. One of my colleagues at work grows figs (and actually supplies them to a local restaurant!) so I know they are hardy in our area, and I love fig anything, but I didn't see any at the garden center -- also unsure if they would be appropriate given that they seem to need a lot of sun.

I'm composting coffee grinds and other food waste although I realize that won't be ready for a few months yet. Any suggestions for managing fertilizer/nutrition for a kitchen garden? Safe ways to keep away pests or animals? (Haven't seen any deer, but there's a squirrel family camping out in my oak tree....) Really, any suggestions at all -- I'm at level 0 here.
posted by basalganglia to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I think you might be in my town or close by. There are master gardeners every week at the Carrboro farmers market who will walk you through everything. They have a table. It’s free.
posted by melodykramer at 7:57 AM on April 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

Unless it's a variety that I'm not familiar with, your dwarf Meyer lemon isn't going to survive outside in winter without babying and luck. In my experience, they're marginal in 8, and don't really thrive until 9. You're close-ish as a 7b, but growing a lemon tree outside its zone is not an endeavor I'd recommend for a novice gardener, especially you're going to be on an east exposure rather than a full south/backed on a wall that retains heat.

And fig trees will grow from cuttings. If you're on friendly terms with your colleague, ask them for a cutting (and any tips they have, and what kind of exposure, because they know their fig plants if they're so successful they're supplying a local restaurant)

The tomato is going to be relatively easy in 7b, especially in a large pot. But you'll likely get thieving squirrels, so once there are fruit, you may have to use nets for that (and the blackberry bush, too. But I don't know anything about blackberries).
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:00 AM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Gardening can be really overwhelming but it's not that hard. Just start small, keep expectations reasonable, and learn as you go.

2nding that you speak to the master gardeners in your area. They are incredibly well educated and knowledgeable volunteers whose mission is to help people start gardening.

Step 1 is figuring out your site and soil. Yes, you should probably be planning a garden for a sunny spot. You can shade garden, but start out giving yourself a good chance with sun-friendly plants.

The soil in most people's backyards isn't really optimized for food gardening. So the first step is to talk with the master gardeners, and /or contact your local cooperative extension office, to request a soil testing kit. You can get the soil tested to tell yu whether it has the right composition for growing food. If not, you can use the results to figure out how to amend your soil with additives. For instance, you actually might not need to add compost. Best to find that out first before assuming.

If your soil is really not great, you can buy and add a ton of topsoil and compost that will be the major growing medium.

Raised gardens: these are not always necessary, but do have a couple benefits. If you have lousy soil tht you are going to have to amend with a lot of added soil anyway, you might just want to build the raised beds as a way of concentrating and containing that good soil. Raised beds give you an efficient space to plan for - it becomes very geometrical and you can use every inch. They have great drainage, so especially in clay ground soil they can be a lot better than in-ground gardening to prevent wet and rotting root systems. Also, this is a small thing but the extra height you get from a raised bed makes weeding, trimming, harvesting easier - less bending. The raised bed soil also warms faster in spring sun. Finally, raised beds are nice landscape elements - you can make them with pathways between, and they lend an attractive dimension to the landscape. They aren't practical beyond a certain scale, but you're not at that scale yet.

So these are really your first steps: get your site picked and find out about your soil. Based on that result, decide whether in-ground or raised beds is right for you. THEN plant!

Also, it's worth mentioning that if you are really unsure and had some money to throw at this, there are landscapers who will set up a garden for you the first time. That takes some of this confusion out of it so you can begin with a garden that works, and learn to maintain and grow it over time. The landsaper would build any beds and do the soil tilling and amending for you. Look for "eco" landscapers and those who advertise a speciality in vegetable gardens. The master gardeners might have a referral for you.

Good luck. Gardening is immensely satisfying and worth it!
posted by Miko at 8:17 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think you're near where I live.

I've been container garderning these past couple of years, first because we were renting, and now because of our backyard conditions, including deer. In a past rental rabbits ate everything I tried to grow. Having observed conditions in front and back yard of our house for 2 years now, hiring a landscaper specializing in edible gardens is in the plans. So for now it's fabric pots in the back deck.

I have a fig tree I got in the Raleigh Farmers Market in a pot indoors as I'm still trying to decide where to plant it permanently. I've had better luck with plants I picked up from local farmers market vendors than at Home Depot. Actually yesterday I ended up comparing vegetable and herb starter plant prices at Costco, Home Depot, and the Durham Farmers Market, and concluded it would be cheaper to buy from the Farmers Market. Plus the Farmers Market vendors have all kinds of varieties that can't be found int he big box stores, and I've found their plants to be hardier.

Birds will attack berries and tomatoes. I've found cherry tomato varieties to be more forgiving than full size tomatoes for beginning gardeners. The Sungold variety does well in the local climate.

I grow different varieties of peppers each year, as I've found they do well here and do not require as much care as, say, tomatoes. I haven't found bell peppers to be worth the effort, but YMMV. Jalapenos are easy to grow but even one plant yielded more than we could use, and personally I don't like jalapeno peppers. If you're into instant gratification, Korean hot pepper varieties quickly yield large fruit compared to other pepper varieties. Locally H-Mart usually has seedlings in the spring. I overwintered two varieties of Aji Dulce (they look like superhot peppers, smell like them, but have none of the heat), an Aji Amarillo, and a Carolina Reaper, and I just put them out today. The Durham Farmers Market vendor I get my plants from said they would have peppers in about 2 to 3 weeks, and I'm looking forward to seeing which varieties they have available this year.

Your list of tools does not include any pruning shears. I have them in a variety of sizes, from small pruning snips that are handy for harvesting peppers and snipping herbs, to larger ones for pruning the plants. Oh, and don't forget gardening gloves.

If you use green onions regularly, you can just plant store bought green onions if there are roots growing at the bottom (not cut off or dried up). You can plant as is in a container and then trim off green tops as needed, or you can just grow it from bottom 1 inch or so of it. At our house we dump the bottoms of green onions in a glass jar with water as we're chopping up the rest of the plant. Then when there's visible root growing and the jar starts looking crowded I just plant them in a large plastic container outside we've dubbed the green onion pot. It's left outside and the green onions in it come back every spring.
posted by research monkey at 9:07 AM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you're in central NC, it has been so damn wet this year and I have been struggling to prep my own garden beds. I worry you will have difficulties cultivating our lovely Piedmont clay.

So I think this would be a great year for you to do container gardening. You can always get your soil tested and till up a bed next year. NC Cooperative Extension is an amazing resource. Keep in mind that many gardening books are written for folks up north and don't reflect our hot summers and long growing season.

Imo the only way to keep out deer is high fences (preferably electrified), but if you're lucky it will take several months for the deer and other critters to discover your garden. This stuff is made locally and some people swear by it, but I have to admit I'm skeptical.
posted by toastedcheese at 9:16 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing asking the Master Gardeners. I took the course once, a long time ago, and learned a lot. They know their stuff!

Get a fertilizer specifically for tomatoes. They have different requirements than other plants, such as calcium, etc. Just get one that says "for tomatoes" and put some in the soil according to directions.

I had squirrels lifting out my tomato seedlings to get at the fertilizer one year (I had put some bone meal in, guess they like that?). And other critters taking bites out of peppers and tomatoes. I used cayenne pepper around them, which has to be reapplied after heavy rain, so get a big cheap jar if you go that route.

Birds, however, are not bother by cayenne. I've seen people use those big giant eyeballs in their veggie gardens, to deter birds.

Compost requires nitrogen, usually in the form of grass clippings, and it has to be aerated, either get a compost ball or turn it over yourself with a pitchfork. Don't put citrus skins in it, they won't break down. If you have an open pile, you might want to put a weighted tarp or other cover on top, as birds and other critters like to use it as a feeding station. Eventually, you have to stop on one pile to let it decompose, and start a new one.

Tomatoes have to be staked up, with cages, or one time, I made a frame out of PVC and tied a net to it, like this one. That keeps air flowing around the plants, keeps fruits off the ground, as eventually even with cages, they can start to sprawl everywhere, so give them some room to grow. You can pinch the bottom leaves off and plant them a little deeper, the hairy stem will form new roots and give them a little sturdier base. I like to pinch the sucker leaves between the main stem and branches, to give more energy to fruiting. They also make some fertilizer leaf sprays, that is, you spray the plant and it soaks it up via the leaves (but also should be aimed at tomatoes, too much nitrogen will result in lots of green leaves, but doesn't really benefit the fruits).

Mulching around tomatoes and other plants helps. Black plastic, you just cut an X in the spot where you will plant the tomato, or newspaper weighted down with rocks, those are good. I don't like wood chip mulch, it ends up making a mess and as the wood chips get into the soil and break down, they can cause a loss of nutrients. If you use black plastic, you need rocks or pins to hold it down (I used to make mine by cutting up old wire coat hangers, using the U-shaped sides as a pin). Nothing is more discouraging than having lovely plants and having to weed all the time.

If you get to a point where it's getting too cold for your tomato harvest, you can pick the green ones and let them ripen on a windowsill.

Also, give the blackberries room to grow, making sure you will be able to walk between the plants and harvest. They require specific types of pruning each year, that is something I'd ask the Master Gardens about. And yes, you will probably need netting, or the big eyeballs, to keep the birds away. Blackberries and raspberries can get overgrown quickly, so allow enough room for several years in one area.

Don't know much about trees, but we had a woody plant expert in our program and he knew everything about trees, so they should be able to help you there. Good luck!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:17 AM on April 7, 2019

Tangential to the other stuff: containers or raised beds with barriers underneath are strongly recommended in my US city, since so much of the soil was contaminated by leaded gasoline and other nastiness in the past century. If you don't have deer, you might have poisoned dirt. :(
posted by bagel at 9:46 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Learning to garden is a slow, iterative process. If you manage your expectations accordingly, it's very rewarding. It forces you to slow your roll down to nature's speed.

I think a small raised bed is a good solution for a situation where your soil is questionable, you have a small space that's getting appropriate sunlight, and you don't know what the wildlife situation is. With a raised bed, it's much easier to erect barriers if you find you're getting damage from wildlife.

You might want to look into the practice of Square Foot Gardening. It's all over the interwebs and there are books as well. That might give you a bit of a step by step plan
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:00 AM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I would return the blackberry bush (probably) and lemon tree (definitely). Berries are a great thing to get started (they will take 2-3 years to produce) but soil testing is a must. You will never get rid of them once they root so you want to be sure you want them.

An easy level container garden might be:
Nasturtiums (Pretty edible flowers that prefer bad soil, leaves are also edible when young)
Chili peppers
Mint, dill, chives, basil
Salad greens, radishes
posted by veery at 10:06 AM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Other than the tomato plant, you seem to have purchased some varsity level plants for your yard (especially regarding watering and winterizing). I'd return them and start with the basics.

Nearly all regions have a "gardeners' guide to Our Area" book you can buy or get from the library. Read it! I learned that lots of things that I thought I wanted to grow may not be possible where I live.

You likely have a local gardening store or organization that does gardening 101 workshops. These are fantastic. Even if they don't, I promise you, the local gardening store people will be way more useful than the Home Depot people. I've also found that the plants and seeds for sale at the local gardening store are way more tuned to our local climate than at Home Depot or the big supermarket. The prices aren't that much different.

Raised beds and containers are advantageous because they reduce the need to weed and you're putting better soil into them.

I really like Square Foot Gardening (books, videos, websites are all over!) because it is really clear about how to space out seeds and what time of year (although needs to be cross referenced with local gardening book) to plant.

Another tip - space out your seed planting by a week. Plant a row of peas, wait a week, do another row. That way it won't be like OMG WE HAVE 7 GAZILLION PEAS THIS WEEK.

Another tip - plant some flowers around too to attract bees and other pollinators.
posted by k8t at 10:39 AM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

If your soil is "somewhat clayish" is may not be great for root crops like onions. This is another question for Master Gardeners and maybe another point for a raised bed. Row cover like Remay or Agribon is useful for keeping off flying pests and is the only way I can grow greens like kale. Bush beans are quick to germinate in warm soil and can be very productive.
posted by Botanizer at 10:41 AM on April 7, 2019

We have some wild blackberries running along a two-mile long fence here in Seattle. Birds eat them and carry the seeds into neighborhood gardens. They have evolved to really take over.

It might not be an issue with the dwarf blackberry planters β€” I've planted the thornless raspberry planters from Monrovia, and they've gotten bushy the second and third years, but they don't spread too much β€” but it might be worth keeping an eye out for the blackberries and trim them back if they take up too much space.

Tomatoes love lots of sun and warmth, and good, rich soil. Make sure the soil is watered on hot days, once a day in the morning is fine IME, but don't overwater. The soil should be moist but not soggy. Unless it is a hot day, try to water at the soil level to keep water off the leaves. Add some tomato fertilizer to where you are planting, before transferring. A tomato cage can help give the plant the structural support it needs as it grows upwards.

Mainly, have fun with it!
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:42 AM on April 7, 2019

If you want the blackberry, you don't need to put it in the sunniest spot, east facing is fine. But they will take over and it will be a while before you see fruit, so maybe return it with the lemon tree. I have a meyer lemon that is 50 years+ old and weird as hell, due to the cold summers. It lives! But I'm a 10 or so on the hardiness scale and I'm just not sure a lemon can live in your winters. Try an apple tree perhaps? The tomato should be fine, I use maxsea fertilizer and pots, but If you want to return the meyer lemon and use that money to get a few good raised beds you'd have room for things other than tomatoes. Try a bell pepper plant! If you baby it and keep it in a pot that you can move somewhere protected it might survive the winter and become a perennial. (might being the key word here.) Personally I'd keep the blackberry. You might not get fruit for a few year but when you do... good luck in the garden!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:05 AM on April 7, 2019

I'm in zone 5b and have a dwarf meyer lemon. I know others who do, one of whom has been watching a single lemon ripen for six months. I find that magical and appealing.

Most of my houseplants spend the summer in this little grove of trees; I don't think there are any that I put in direct sun, though I plan to with the lemon. I have done this with a couple of big banana plants for a few years now, and all my house plants, including a ficus. The bananas (musa basjoo; not the edible kind of banana) gets morning sun and is taller than me, but I've seen people grow them in full sun.

So, in 5b, they spend winter inside and summer outside. For plants that I move in and out summer versus winter, I wait until there is sort of an equilibrium between outside and inside that I know will stay okay for a couple of weeks. (Like, windows open most nights--not running the heat.) In the summer I wait for when I pretty consistently don't need a jacket, and then put them in the dappled shade of a tree and move them a little more into direct sun over the course of a week or two. Around here, that's mid to late May.

It's totally doable--the trick is in the transitions which is probably best arrived at by searching for your specific area.

Here's an article!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:16 AM on April 7, 2019

Is there a sunny space in the front or sides? Vegetables like quite a bit of sun. They need adequate water, but usually don't like it too soggy. They need healthy soil and nutrients.

Make a little drawing of any space you have for plants. Look up blackberries - they need at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day. Choose a good spot, plant. I love homegrown tomatoes so they get the sunniest spot, and plenty of composted manure. You have oaks and squirrels; so do I. The squirrels may eat your veggies, just because they're jerks. sometimes they leave the tomatoes in containers alone.

Peas, summer squash(yellow squash or zucchini) and green beans are pretty easy in a sunny spot. Winter squash, Hubbard, butternut, etc., are sprawly but easy. Lettuces do well in spring and fall, and grow fast.

Put the lemon tree in a pretty big container and bring it in in the winter.

There will be a Cooperative Extension Office somewhere not too far away; they can hook you up with garden help. The library will have books for your area. Puttering in a garden is relaxing, eating fresh veg is delicious.
posted by theora55 at 11:22 AM on April 7, 2019

Incidentally, even very experienced gardeners overdo in the first days of spring. Maybe not shopping, but going out and moving ALL THE STUFF and planting more seeds than can possibly fit. Spring is intoxicating! We're drunk with hope!

Don't hurt your back or plant invasives, and you'll be fine.
posted by clew at 12:39 PM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

How small is this "small" corner? If you only have a wee area that gets all-day sun, you probably want to maximize what you grow there. For me, that would not include onions β€” they figure into much of my cooking, but in terms of units per square foot onions aren't a great deal. Bell peppers aren't awesome for productivity either. To get the most out of a small garden plot, I'd choose plants that produce a lot in a little space over the course of a month or more, so I could use them as they ripen. That means I'd be planting high yielding varieties of tomatoes, tomatillos, summer squash, cucumbers, pole beans, peas, and hot peppers. Add an Asian eggplant if ratatouille is your summer jam. If you're a regular salad eater, grow cut-and-come-again varieties rather than head lettuces.

"Square foot gardening" and "vertical gardening" are good search terms for learning about maximizing what you can grow in a small space.
posted by mumkin at 1:45 PM on April 7, 2019

Thanks to all who have provided tips! I went to a Vegetable Gardening 101 talk at the library today -- I was definitely the most novice person there, but it was really helpful. I'll definitely get my soil checked before putting anything in the ground. And thanks to those who suggested tapping into farmers' markets -- I don't know why I didn't think of that!

All things considered, containers might be best for this year, as I can control location and quality with potting soil. Maybe I'll upgrade to raised beds next year. The sunny back corner is about 5 ft x 5 ft, so plenty big enough for planting, but it needs a lot of weeding and work to prep (plus the soil testing). I'd estimate that it gets about 10 hr sunlight a day.

I do really want to keep the lemon and the blackberry -- understanding that they will likely be in planters all their life and may not actually bear fruit. And I like the idea of getting a fig cutting from my friend to put out in front!
posted by basalganglia at 2:44 PM on April 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

If you're getting bagged potting mix, Costco is the cheapest place for it.

Stay away from the super cheap potting soil sold at Walmart, I can't remember the brand name. I got some one year because it was so cheap and I regretted it.
posted by research monkey at 2:58 PM on April 7, 2019

If you keep the lemon tree: grow it in a large pot with some width. Lemon tree roots tend to be wide and comparatively shallow. In winter, move it indoors or, if outdoors, to your most sheltered spot. Meyer lemons are a little more cold-tolerant than regular lemons and the dwarf variety is supposed to work well in containers.

I'm in London, Zones 8-9. I have a balcony but no yard, so all my stuff is in containers. I have successfully grown:

--Tomatoes, but only cherry ones. The larger ones got blossom-end rot (apparently pretty common in container tomatoes). But the cherry size ones were fine and prolific.

--Zucchini. Very successful one year, then I started getting blossom-end rot. I made the best of it by using the flowers and the baby squashes before the rot started.

--Sweet corn. Very exciting to watch grow! But very low yield (2 or 3 ears per plant). I came to the conclusion that this was the wrong crop for a balcony, but I'll never forget how it felt to step out and see new growth every day.

--Hops. Very successful! I have five bines in containers which are producing shoots now. I cut each one down to a single shoot and eat the rest (hop shoots are delicious, steamed). The bines will give you hops in their third year. They grow enormously tall; I've got wires running up the side of the house. I give the hops to a friend who brews, and he gives me beer.

--Rhubarb. This would grow well in Zone 7. To eat it, you cut up the stems and boil the pieces with a little water and a little sugar. You can add it to a fruit crisp, cobbler or pie-- it pairs well with apples, peaches and apricots-- or just pour the syrup over vanilla ice cream. Or infuse it in gin.

--Redcurrants. I inherited a bush from a friend who moved house. Bears fruit reliably every year.

--Artichokes. I grew a plant last year that did fine but bore no artichokes. I hope it will bear some this year.

--Strawberries. So good! I only have two plants, but at their height I can harvest around three berries a day (best eaten fresh). More space would yield more berries.

--Spring onions and leeks. Got too big for the container I had them in, but were delicious.

--Garlic. The yield hasn't been high, but the plants are resolutely coming back. They say that planting garlic near another plant will help deter aphids, which is all to the good.

--Herbs. Thyme, oregano, sage, sweet woodruff, rosemary, lavender and a bay tree. Basil, mint and parsley in summer. Oregano and thyme will self-seed and take over everything.

--One (1) lemon tree, inherited recently from a friend who moved house. It survived a winter outdoors at her place. It's showing some new little leaves. I've put its pot next to a south-facing wall, will give it a larger pot this month and hope for the best.

Sorry to ramble. Hope some of this is helpful.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:13 PM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I started a raised bed garden by putting down a couple inches of clean cardboard and newspaper the fall before, topped with lots of leaves. It takes a lot of cardboard and newspaper; I scoured the recycling on my street. It smothers the grass and weeds and composts itself. Oak leaves are acid, so I sweetened it up with some ashes from the wood stove, also a good source of potassium. Post on; someone will have wood ashes.
posted by theora55 at 4:53 PM on April 7, 2019

I wouldn't give up on the Meyer lemon if you want to give it a go, you just might need to bring it indoors in winter.

I have a Meyer lemon in a pot I bought as a little twig 5 years ago, when I lived in zone 6, and now I live on the colder end of zone 5. I put it outdoors in spring once temperatures are reliably in the 40s or above for lows and bring it in once temperatures are dipping into the low 40s again in fall. It spends the winter in a sunny south-facing window in a room that also has an east window and lots of light. Last year it had its first lemon that made it all the way to maturity, and this winter it had three! The flowers smell amazing.
posted by abeja bicicleta at 5:01 PM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Container gardening: If you get summer rain, you won't need sub-irrigated planters as much as dry places do, but they have other virtues (cheap!) and you can make them out of five-gallon buckets and scrap pipe. They're small enough to carry when planted and full so you can try different spots in the yard. Someday I will figure out how to make them prettier (wicker sleeves?)

One of their virtues is that you can put bug screen over the water intakes and drain holes and leave your plants with plenty of water without making a breeding-puddle.
posted by clew at 5:15 PM on April 7, 2019

When I moved from Maryland to Vermont it was such a change that I decided to take the Vermont Master Gardeners' program to learn more about the new-to-me zhone. It was very useful.

I ended up doing all my volunteer hours at the Justin Morrill Homestead reviving their historic gardens, and then suspended my active status with the VTMG program. I still stay on the email lists.

So nthing the master gardener program.
posted by terrapin at 8:26 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Container gardening: If you get summer rain, you won't need sub-irrigated planters as much as dry places do, but they have other virtues (cheap!) and you can make them out of five-gallon buckets and scrap pipe. They're small enough to carry when planted and full so you can try different spots in the yard. Someday I will figure out how to make them prettier (wicker sleeves?)

What I do is get interesting looking standard pots (with drainage hole) and epoxy plastic tubing straight up to the top of the reservoir level. Sub-irrigated planters are great even if you do get summer rain for plants like tomatoes which are really sensitive to dry soil. Blossom end-rot is mostly caused by dryness not calcium deficiency and SIPs will prevent that dryness.
posted by atrazine at 8:55 AM on April 8, 2019

Buying seedlings is a great way for a beginner to get started, as you don't have the work, worry and expense of seed starting and you give yourself a fighting chance with a healthy, growing plant.

But I just wanted to second going somewhere for young plants other than Home DEpot/Lowe's/Walmart etc. for plants. The seedlings that are sold there are grown in massive greenhouses as cheaply as possible, then shipped in bulk and sold as loss leaders in the store. They don't get proper care while there as the watering and feeding systems are limited and minimal. They are sometimes overbaked in the sun or left in the cold overnight when it's lower than it should be. In short, they're not very hardy.

Instead, find your local garden centers - especially those that have been in business for decades. They specialize in plants and have knowledgeable staff who can give you real advice. They also take care of the plants much better and choose and sell varieties that are optimized for your area, rather than whatever Big Plant is pushing to Home Depot in bulk. You may pay a little bit more (though usually not even), and you'll start with a much happier and healthier plant, and reap the rewards over the season. It makes a huge difference.
posted by Miko at 5:07 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

atrazine, I can't picture your subirrigated containers but it sounds elegant -- details?
posted by clew at 10:42 AM on April 9, 2019


I start with a standard outdoor pot with a drainage hole on the bottom. It should be waterproof, so not unglazed terracotta although since I love the look of them I have been considering using boat epoxy to waterproof the interior of a few this year.

I use old take-away food containers as reservoirs. Lots of small holes poked on top and a few larger ones on the lower sides and bottom. A large hole on top for the fill tube. Then I pack the potting mix around the sides of it in the bottom of the pot - this is a bit different than what you linked. That link shows the potting mix coming into the centre of the reservoir which is similar to what commercially sold SIP planters do. I prefer to have the potting mix around the edge of the reservoir as I think it's easier to make this way.

Now for the drain tube. I measure the distance from the centre pot drainage hole to just short of the top of the reservoir and cut a pvc or clear plastic tube of the right length. I epoxy that tube to the drainage hole so that it sticks up vertically inside the reservoir. Any water above the top of the reservoir will drain through this tube and come out the bottom as if it were as normal pot. Put pot feet on if required for good drainage.

This lets me do two things - first it lets me recycle all my existing pots as they can be converted into SIPs, second it means I can buy nice looking pots and use them as SIPS. I know some people are really into the recycled container look but I have a relatively small inner-suburban garden and I want it to have a certain elegant look which is not compatible with everything growing in giant restaurant sized mayonnaise buckets or plastic totes.
posted by atrazine at 1:35 AM on April 10, 2019

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